Talking to our kids about sex has come up a bit lately. Any of my friends will tell you I’m a bit of a prude when it comes to discussing this kind of stuff. I have never had the kind of frank chats over coffee that were championed in Sex and the City. I’ve been into a sex- shop a grand total of once and I wanted to wear a disguise while I was there. I certainly didn’t make eye contact with anyone for the duration.
Now that it’s started to come up and I’ve been thinking about it, I think I know what I need to do. I need to answer the questions they ask. I need to get comfortable talking to them about the entire act, in an age appropriate manner. I need to talk to them about consent. I need to talk to them about respect. About what it feels like to be rejected. About what it feels like to be consumed by your desire. These all feel like Really Big Things to talk about and for a while I was stymied by how to begin talking with them about the Really Big Things without completely freaking them out.
And then I remembered Octonauts. For those of you who are (blissfully) unaware of Octonauts, it’s a cartoon on Netflix about 8 different “critters” who live in a submarine and use each of their different skills sets to stage rescues of other underwater creatures who are in danger. There’s no sex involved. What there is involved is a complete lack of consent. The Octonauts (led by a well-bred-accented-male-polar-bear, of course) never once, in all the one million and thirty two episodes, ask the creature they’re rescuing how they feel about the situation. They never say “I see you’re in a spot of bother, we could help you out if you’d like, this is our team, and this is what we think might help. With your permission, we’ll get started right away.” They just march on in and take over.
This irked me. It irked me for a while before I said anything. And then I casually mentioned this to my kids in the middle of an episode they were watching. At first they looked at me with blank faces. And then, with further discussion, they kind of shrugged and nodded and gave me a look that said “okaaaaaay Mama” and went back to watching. Every now and then in the ensuing months I yelled out in the middle of an episode “Did they ask the [narwhal] if it needed rescuing???!!!”
Once I remembered this, I remembered all the other times that I calmly and not-so-calmly demand that one or the other of my children listen to the other play-mate’s cries to stop. If I see something that makes me uncomfortable I ask them to pause, and I check in with both of them to see if they’re OK with what’s happening. Often one of them isn’t and we negotiate a different way of playing. If they’re upset I let them talk about how and why they’re upset. If they don’t want to wear shoes they don’t have to. If they want to shave off their hair they do it.
If I’m giving you the impression that we have this totally nailed, I need to just mention that they’re still kids, who get lost in the moment, who get tired, and frustrated, and lose their minds in anger. There are still those moments, which I think are pretty normal, that require a calming down period, a chat, a re-establishing of values and a reminder of respect and bodily autonomy and a gentle suggestion that the other person might appreciate hearing if they’re sorry.
I am realising that I am teaching them about consent in everyday life, have been from the day they were born. Thank goodness.
And thanks Octonauts.